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In the media: PocketQube – small and low cost cubic satellites that can go into space

CMU Portugal Exploratory Research project PROMETHEUS was featured in the online and printed edition of Exame Informática, a Portuguese Magazine on the latest technology advancements. The project was also highlighted on the TV show Exame Informática, transmitted in the Portuguese TV Channel SIC Notícias.

The project, led by Alexandre Ferreira da Silva at Universidade do Minho in collaboration with Instituto Superior Técnico (NanosatLab) and Carnegie Mellon University, is developing 5cm cubic satellites to provide easy access to space for the research and education community. According to the project PI, Alexandre Ferreira da Silva from Universidade do Minho, “These small cube-shaped satellites measuring 5 cm, called PocketQubes, are made with simple and low-cost materials, making it an accessible tool for teaching and research.”

Paulo Fisch, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher currently working under the project, was in Portugal in July to support the development of these mini satellites that are designed to be used in the classroom, from high school to college, but are also prepared to go into space. 

Even if they are only 5cm large, they have all the necessary elements to function effectively: a camera (from a mobile phone), an orientation sensor, actuators to position it in space after launch, a solar battery and a radio communication system. It also has antennas, made with measuring tape, attached to the base with fishing line that will be attached to the base, inside the rocket. 

According to Paulo “Given the simplicity of the entire process, it is easier to assemble and disassemble than many Lego toys that are offered to children,” so researchers predict that they will probably be possible to use in the classroom from high school onwards. The total cost does not exceed 500 euros and all plans are available for consultation on the open-source platform GitHub. 

Being affordable is one of the real advantages since “access to space is usually expensive and restricted to government agencies and big companies”, explains Rodrigo Ventura from Técnico adding “Currently with New Space, small and medium-sized companies already have access to space. With this project we want to expand it even more and have satellites in orbit built by students”. 

Paulo Fisch’s visit to Portugal started in Universidade do Minho where the satellites were first assembled with the support of Pedro Andrade, Ph.D. student at UMinho. They then visited Técnico’s Taguspark Campus, where the evaluation of the satellites communication system took place. 

In addition to the models intended exclusively for teaching, the team is also building a PocketQube destined to fly and be launched in low earth orbit (LEO), 400 kilometers from altitude. Certification to fly requires vibration tests and the so-called bake out in which the satellite is placed inside an oven at 80 degrees to release gasses on Earth and not in the void of space. The launch should take place aboard Space X, in a process handled by the company Spanish Fossa, with an estimated cost of twenty thousand euros. 

Alexandre Ferreira da Silva expects to start testing the use of the small satellite in the 2024/25 academic year at UMinho. 

Full article (in Portuguese)
Video Exame Informática